Boris Johnson defends handling of Matt Hancock scandal saying 'we had new Health Secretary' day later

Why did the PM not sack Mr Hancock, and instead said the 'matter was closed'? ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt explains

The Prime Minister has defended his handling of the scandal around Matt Hancock breaking social distancing rules, after the former health secretary resigned rather than getting the sack.

Mr Hancock stood down on Saturday after images and footage emerged of him kissing his close aide Gina Coladangelo, in breach of coronavirus restrictions.

Pressed on what a minister had to do to get sacked from his government, Boris Johnson said a new health secretary was in place the day after the scandal emerged.

PM defends handling of Hancock scandal - despite the former health secretary resigning himself

Asked whether it had undermined Number 10's message about being "all in it together," Mr Johnson said: "That’s right, and that’s why when I saw the story on Friday we had a new Secretary of State for Health in on Saturday."

Speaking to reporters during a campaign visit to Batley in West Yorkshire on Monday, Mr Johnson said the process was “the right pace to proceed in a pandemic”.

Mr Hancock has now been replaced by former Chancellor Sajid Javid.

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt asks the Justice Secretary why Boris Johnson did not sack Matt Hancock:

The PM initially stuck by Mr Hancock after the Sun published footage on Friday of him kissing the aide, an old friend from his days at Oxford University, in his ministerial office on May 6.

The series of events had led to renewed questions over standards in Mr Johnson's government after a series of controversies surrounding some of his most senior ministers.

But Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told ITV News Mr Hancock was "right" to resign.

When asked repeatedly why Mr Hancock had not, instead, been sacked, Mr Buckland told ITV News: "Matt Hancock resigned the day after the revelations appeared in the national press.

"I don’t think that’s a dilly-dallying approach, he’s gone.

"We have a new health secretary who has been in post for more than 24 hours - we’re getting on with the job and I really don’t think this sort of detail is of significance."

Mr Buckland added: "Matt Hancock has resigned, that’s the right thing to do."

Mr Hancock is facing further questions about his conduct in office with allegations in The Sunday Times he used a personal email account, breaching government guidelines.

Labour have demanded an investigation into the allegations.

Mr Buckland suggested the Cabinet Office is likely to investigate the matter and said that if ministers had to use a personal email address then their communications should be retained.

What about a potential new scandal, over the use of personal email accounts?

He said: "I think that the important point is we went through a very pressurised emergency situation earlier last year.

"I think the key thing for me is was there any sensitive material sent and was there any way of retaining the emails so they can be retained for future examination.

"I don’t know whether those principles were adhered to but I think it makes sense for minister to use the government channels for official business."

The leak of CCTV footage that led to Mr Hancock's resignation have led to questions about security arrangements in ministerial offices.

Tory MP Peter Bone has been granted an urgent question on the issue on Monday.

'Questions are raised by the way in which this data found its way into the public domain'

Mr Buckland told ITV News: "I don’t know the full facts of the individual case but I think there’s a general principle here about the need for everyone to respect data protection laws. 

He added: "Questions are raised by the way in which this data found its way into the public domain.

"You can think of examples where a hostile state or hostile individual or organisation to the UK got this material - that would be a national security concern."

Labour has called for a full independent inquiry into the potential use of personal emails.

"It’s staggering that a government minister has admitted that the Tory party could be putting national security at risk by carrying out government business on private emails but hasn't said that Ministers are going to do anything about it," Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said.

"We already know that hostile actors target Ministers' private email accounts to access sensitive information.

"We need a full independent inquiry to get to the bottom of how wide this goes, whether Ministers have put our national security at risk and what steps will be taken to protect vital information and our country’s security."

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